Greetings St. John’s Lutheran Church!
[Jesus said,] “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:43-48
This passage is from Jesus’ famous teaching known as the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, Jesus ascends a mountain and speaks to a crowd
of followers about many daily, practical matters. Jesus teaching the crowd from a mountainside recalls Moses teaching the Israelites from Mount Sanai about
the ten commandments (see Exodus 34:29-35).
In his teaching, Jesus speaks often about relationships, specifically how one is to be in right relationship with others. Here, Jesus speaks about how we
are to treat those that we consider to be our enemies. What Jesus says on this subject no doubt disturbed that first crowd as much as it disturbs us today.
Love our enemies? Pray for our persecutors? This is too much to ask of mere human beings.
This section of Jesus’ sermon in Matthew echoes themes that we hear in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37). Jesus answers the question: who is my neighbor? Here and in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the answer is scandalously, even ridiculously inclusive. Jesus tells us that even our enemies, our persecutors are neighbors and deserve to be treated with love, respect, care, and forgiveness.
This lesson flies in the face of everything that we are taught by popular culture and major media outlets. The voices of the world tell us that we are to overpower our enemies with violence, hate those who persecute us, and alienate those whom we view as a threat. People who look different than we do whether by dress or skin color or disability, people who practice a different religion than we do, people who come from another culture or country than we do, people who speak a different language than we do – all of these people are labeled as enemies or persecutors by the voices of popular culture and mainstream media. Think about it. What groups of people are cast as the enemy in James Bond movies? What groups of people are consistently depicted in a negative light in the news? Jesus calls us to look on these people as our neighbors and to treat them with mercy.
The consequences of listening to the voices of the world is illustrated clearly in the cross. Jesus’ own people cast him as an enemy and were so blinded by their fear and hatred that they condemned him, an innocent man, to death on the cross. Part of the power of the cross is how it clearly illustrates that the path walked by God is one of love to the end, even for enemies. This is the path that Jesus is calling us to in this text.
While we are all human and will inevitably be influenced by sinful habits: pettiness, selfishness, fear, even hatred and violence, we know that our call is to take up the cross and follow the path of Christ. We are called to the path of extreme love, love to the end, love even for those that the world labels as our enemies.
How will you answer this call? Maybe you will speak out when someone else speaks negatively about someone who is different. Maybe you will make the decision to learn more about a culture or religion that is unfamiliar to you. Maybe you will smile at someone you might normally avoid. Even small gestures can be incredibly meaningful and encourage us to take one more step down the path of extreme love. Whatever you decide to do, may the words of Jesus here inspire you.